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This week’s mailbox: Public servants’ commitment to cultural competency is lacking

Open letter to Whitehorse city council

Open letter to Whitehorse city council

I want to thank you for having me. I come with an open heart and an open mind. I believe that you, city council and community leaders can have a deeper impact and affect meaningful change –setting precedence for the rest of Canada. The common goal of any leader is to help the people build a better healthier life.

When I see this young boy chipping away at this huge rock, I ask, “What are you doing?” He answers, “I am letting the light out.” Every time he hits the rock, a tiny particle of light beams out chasing away the darkness. A light full of love and warmth, so pure and innocent and blessed by Creator. “The stone spoke to me.” He says. “What does it say?” I ask. He replies, “It tells me to be patient and that someday we will meet.” The man replies, “How can I help?”

That is the real me, who I truly am, caged in the stone, I am that boy starting on my healing path — chipping away all that is negative — the false idea that I am less than. An idea planted long ago by a white man and his sons. I was a child being indoctrinated – shaped by society and its colonial policies. I grew up without my identity and without knowing my cultural history.

I still endure the trauma, but I do not let it control me, of being taken from my home and growing up in a system that is persistent in trying to destroy my inherent rights, my being, and my ancestor’s way of life. This is still the plight of my people with added baggage of constantly enduring racism and discrimination within our healthcare, our education, housing agencies, and even within our own First Nations (FN) governments. Racism, discrimination, and stereotyping are still pervasive. Policies and legislation are still enacted and hindering First Nations’ inherent right to self-determination.

The idea that First Nation people are lazy, useless, and no good for nothing has to stop in order to build a safer, healthier community. First Nation people are over-represented in the child welfare and the justice system. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and + (MMIWG) final report stated Indigenous women are 16 times more likely to be murdered than Caucasian women. Colonial policies were put in place to set us up for failure. What you see today with my people is a result of past colonial policies: the Indian Act, the Residential School, The Sixties Scoop, misappropriation of our lands and resources, and the marginalization of my people.

People get angry when my people talk about entitlement and I ask why? Why do they get mad? We want the same thing, build a better life for ourselves. We have the same rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights. Also, out there, there is a misconception, a falsehood, that First Nations get everything for free – free education, free housing, free money from social assistance. We do not get anything for free, and none of the money comes from taxpayers, because it is our own money and it comes from our First Nations’ trust account that was set up by the federal government when they made us, First Nations people, wards of the crown by the enacted 1876 Indian Act. As long as I can remember, wherever I went, I have always paid some kind of tax.

On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Governor General Mary Simon said, “It is our shared responsibility to record and teach the true history of Canada.” I think the only way we are going to get through this turbulent time is to pause and reflect on the impacts of colonialism but not just one day of the year. It should be every time we see a First Nation person experiencing poverty, homelessness, or substance abuse. We have to remember how First Nations life came to be, those that are lost, are still enduring the results of genocide.

Today, I come from an understanding that I come from a highly intelligent group of people who have survived this terrain for countless generations. From a people whose songs echo these mountain valleys, rivers, streams, and highway corridors. From a peoples’ language, knowledge, and teachings that permeate this land. Knowledge that shows me where to collect food and medicine, and teachings that tell me I am part of something that is really, really great. That is who I am, my identity. We are the land and it teaches me all life is sacred and should be treated as such.

We are at a crossroads and it is not looking good. According to statistics from the Canadian school of public service (CSPS), which offers cultural competency training sessions on Indigenous issues, fewer than one-fifth of public servants have attended any one session. One session, Taking Steps Towards Indigenous Reconciliation, had a participation rate of one per cent. That is a little over 1,000 people out of 300,000 or so public servants. Nobody wants to do the work – to understand the truth of Canada’s dark history and how things came to be.

When we create awareness, learn and help each other, walk side-by-side, we create magic, beauty, wonder and awe. Every time we strike the stone, light bursts and reverberates – reminding us of who we truly are – bringing us closer to the sacred whole. We gather strength – weaving and adding our own ancestral knowledge and teachings to the web of life. This not only empowers people but society as well.

I heard this once, we are longing for a place we have never been to before. I do not believe that because when we entered this circle of life, we were surrounded, engulfed in love and compassion and we brought the same into this world. We, people, are designed for greatness.

In 2011, I heard Governor General David Johnston speak, he said, “History shows that advancement comes from rich and intense collaboration… the candle represents enlightenment. When you light your candle from my candle, my candle is not diminished, it is enhanced.”

Right now we have to continue creating that awareness about First Nations true history and our contributions to Whitehorse, to the Yukon, and to Canada. It is only then that we can understand and walk together with genuine, mutual reverence and respect, for our future generations. I am asking you to please learn the true history so we can move forward in a good way. Thank you.

Jason Charlie